Workplace Doctor: I'm stuck in a rut with no chance of promotion – how do I get out?

I have outgrown my current role with no chance of promotion in the company. However, I have learnt that, following the high-profile resignations in the aftermath of the UK’s Brexit vote, quitting a job is really the privilege of the lucky few who do not have to worry about how the bills will be paid next month. Stuck waiting for a new job or opportunity in a slow economy is the definition of purgatory. How can I stay motivated and sharp in my current role until things change? JB, Abu Dhabi

You are right that only the privileged few are able to just get up one day and quit. They then either wait to land their dream job or have the tenacity to create opportunities for themselves. These folks either have a backup option or are willing to take a risk to be their own boss.

Unfortunately, the cost of living in the UAE, which includes utility bills, rent and school fees, means many employees remain under the safety of the organisational payroll. You’d be surprised as to how many actually prefer this cushion as it still allows them to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. That being said, there are inspirational stories of individuals walking out of their well-paying jobs to form groundbreaking start-ups. The example of two McKin­sey employees leaving to start the taxi service Careem springs to mind. Yet for each risk-taker there are five unadventurous souls feeling stuck in the rut and not able to get out.

For you, me and other mere mortals, we either need to make do with what we have (which isn’t so bad, let’s be honest) or be curious to look at what else is out there. We all know the economy is tough and we are in a global environment plagued with cuts and constraints, which makes the thought of starting something new even less appealing. Being stuck in the corporate life with no chance to grow can be equally as stressful for those who aspire to reach the top. It is times such as this that you need to be creative and find new and novel solutions to do your job, even within the constraints of a job that is no longer meeting your aspirations.

If you still feel you have outgrown your role but don’t have a better option, the best thing to do is to stay where you are, carefully analyse your options and use your spare time in the evenings or on weekends to look for more exciting opportunities. Be sure to spend some time planning out your career goals, big and small, as well as your personal development opportunities.

Have informal chats with recruiters, search potential employers online and try to get a better idea of what may be around at this time and in the near future. If nothing else, it can help to put things into perspective – the grass is not always greener.

Another option is to not think of a new job as the only solution to your problems. Instead ask yourself what more you can learn in your current role or what you can improve about yourself professionally. If you can’t be promoted, you can at least develop and promote your own learning until internal and external opportunities emerge. Identify some role models, those with the experiences and qualifications you aspire to: this will help you consider what development you need. You can enrol for personal and professional development courses in the meantime to improve your existing skill set, which may give you an upper hand in the future.

Similarly, if you feel you have more time, this could be a per­iod in your life where you could do something you have always wanted to do, such as play more sport, spend more time with your family or learn a new language. Along with being proactive, be patient and maybe reframe the situation as one that is giving you more time to do some of the other things you love. We get so used to being busy and when we are not we feel useless. This is simply not true. We could put our “use” elsewhere.

Doctor’s prescription

Some risk-takers walk out of mundane jobs to be their own bosses. If this isn’t something you can do, then find creative ways of making your role more interesting, or develop yourself professionally or personally by taking new courses or nurturing a hobby. Then when an opportunity does arise, you should have the upper hand among the competition.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues

Workplace Doctor: Take heed of Ernest Shackleton when a leader departs in the middle of a crisis

When a leader leaves in the middle of a crisis, what does that mean for the next person in charge? Is it a case of clear up the mess and get on with the job, or come in all guns blazing with a brand new strategy? YT, Dubai 

When a leader jumps ships in the midst of a severe storm there is always potential for mutiny within the team and anxiety for this new captain to steer the ship back on course. Coming in all guns blazing is certainly something any experienced leader would not do, but at the same time he or she doesn’t have to simply accept business as usual. Stepping in to a new team facing a crisis can require a cleanup effort, but also if done correctly, serves as an opportunity for you and the team to make some positive changes.

Remember, immediately launching a new strategy and new ways of going about things too early implies the team’s previous work was a waste of time. Instead, a more sensitive approach would be to get to know the people, use the best of what’s been implemented in the past and slowly guide them towards a new course of action. You will find that gaining their loyalty and commitment will mean your crew happily follows your direction resulting in the ship moving faster. It may even be useful to speak with the previous leader and learn a bit about the team, their priorities and preferences. However, make sure you remain open minded enough to form your own opinions.

The next thing to do as a leader taking over a new team in the middle of a crisis is to get all hands on deck, stuck in and as a team get through it. It is very important for you as the leader to reassure the team that you are prepared to work with them to overcome the bad weather in the short-term. This shows not only an acknowledgement and appreciation of the pressure they are under but also a willingness to get your hands dirty if you need to. The team will then trust that you are working with them rather than simply telling ordering them around.

This crisis situation is also a real good opportunity for you to demonstrate a quick win – both to the team and to the management who selected you for this position. If you can show tangible results early and the group can experience their first success under you, this will set you up well for the future. You can also use the crisis and the time to clearly express your own values and intentions as a leader. You can explain the rational behind your decisions, list priorities and what you think is the best measure of performance going forward. That way, the team knows where you stand early on and there won’t be any surprises if your approach differs from their previous captain.

Following this, either as part of dealing with the sticky situation itself or as a result of it, it is critical to devote time or energy to establishing how you want your team to work, not just what you want them to achieve. Setting this up early on is important as otherwise the team will find themselves naturally following the route they are most comfortable with.

Emerging through this crisis should be an opportunity to pause and reflect on how you all want to work together. This could be executed through an informal lunch, team-building activity, a day out and about for the team or simply through regular open conversations. The key is they see you as an interested and engaging leader who is open to suggestions on what they think works and what they would like to leave behind with the previous leadership.

Lastly, it is also important as a team leader to get people working towards the same goals early on. This may be in line with the current strategy or to achieve new objectives. You may want to change course slightly, but as you have inherited the team, it is important they are clear on the direction they are already supposed to be going in.

One popular example of leadership in times of crisis is Ernest Shackleton and his Trans-Antartic expedition over 100 years ago. Shackleton and 28 explorers were stranded in Antarctica, when their ship became frozen in ice. The crew faced starvation, isolation and extreme temperatures with the situation worsening day by day. Yet, they braved through to return home safely. The reasons for this are inextricably linked to what’s been discussed above. Shackleton kept his team to a strict routine. He instilled a sense of cohesion; insisting that every evening the team got together around the fire. He proved he was willing to do whatever was required to survive and put in the hours rather than just expecting the team to. He maintained their focus on the goal of survival, achieving it with confidence and tenacity.

Doctors Prescription

Taking over in times of a crisis can feel like being asked to captain a sinking ship. This isn’t always the case but if you find yourself in such a situation, use this opportunity to slowly execute your strategies and ideas, but gain the respect of your team early through a small victory. Getting through it successfully is important, but also use it as an opportunity to understand the team and make them feel like you are a leader who will work with them, and not over them.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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How valuable is my LinkedIn profile? Should I ensure every aspect of it is fully up to date and well-written or do I just view it as a way to have an online presence. And are the upgrades offered really necessary? I’m not planning on jumping ship now but I’m always open to offers. PG, Dubai

Today, the use of social media for personal and professional purposes is part and parcel of everyday life. From tweeting or retweeting posts, connecting with friends on Facebook and to building our professional network on LinkedIn, some would argue that our online presence is just as, if not more important, than our presence in the real world. However unfortunate that may be for real face-to-face human interaction, it is probably true.

Starting out in 2003 with only 4,500 members, today LinkedIn now has 433 million users in over 200 countries. LinkedIn started out as a place to publish your resume and grow your network. It has now evolved into a much more sophisticated method of growing your own personal brand. For this very reason, never has it been more essential to build and maintain a credible and active LinkedIn presence.

You should view the platform as the arena to not only showcase your talent and profile but also to network, share and gain knowledge and ideas from around the world. It is also a great way to take a peek at how well (or not) some of your former classmates and colleagues are doing.

There are a number of reasons why LinkedIn is important for professionals. You can gain an awareness of other people’s perceptions of you through endorsements and then consider your strengths and possible gaps in your skill set. You can also follow role models and thought leaders as well as identify what qualifications or experience you may need to move up the ladder.

For me, probably the most important reason is that it provides you with the capability to grow and diversify your corporate network, both within and outside your organisation. LinkedIn allows me to connect and communicate with colleagues globally, which has given me the opportunity to work in San Francisco, South Africa and back in London.

It also enables you to connect with industry peers from outside your organisation, which is great to share ideas as well as potentially exposing you to interesting opportunities in the future. Remember when someone Google’s you, your LinkedIn profile is the first search result displayed and a few studies have shown that more than 94 per cent will click on this link only.

LinkedIn is an excellent resource for recruiting new members for your team, researching the competition and exploring opportunities to collaborate with new partners in your field. It can also be a useful tool to gain background information when preparing for meetings with potential clients.

I probably sound like I am employed by LinkedIn, but I do think it is an important career tool. In terms of the upgrades, I think premium accounts are great for active job seekers, recruiters or sales people. But if you don’t fall into any of those categories, the basic account is sufficient. I also think it is a balancing act because you do not want to become preoccupied with your online presence and spend all your time cultivating this virtual persona. Do the work in the real world and let it reflect on your profile. Keep it accurate and concise and avoid turning it into a fantasy novel.

Doctor’s Prescription:

LinkedIn provides numerous opportunities for us to network, share, learn and grow in our professional careers. It provides the gateway to a global corporate network. However, it should be a reflection of your true corporate identity and not an exaggerated version of the truth. Build your career through your hard work and dedication and allow it to shine through on your profile. Don’t rely on creating fiction, when you have the chance to show facts.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

I have a busy job, a busy home life and a busy exercise regime. People often say, “I don’t know how you do it” and sometimes I wonder the same thing. Would a life or career coach be able to help me balance the different areas of my life better? Or is it just a case of sitting down and planning my week out. MN, Abu Dhabi

When I read your question I too was thinking, “I don’t know how you do it”. You are clearly working hard juggling all these aspects of your life. While it is clearly hectic at the moment, it is encouraging that you are still trying to ensure an even balance, with family and exercise remaining as priorities when often other people tend to let these slip when work takes over. Yet clearly there must be some trade-offs.

It sounds like you are starting to feel overwhelmed, and I can understand why. While you try to juggle all of your commitments, you may be setting yourself up for a fall. You should try to focus on quality not quantity. When you have so many things happening at the same time, it can be difficult to fully immerse yourself in an experience without your mind wandering elsewhere, and not truly being in the moment.

As a motivated person, it is natural to want to keep busy, however it can be at the risk of never having any down time. If you are anything like me, you spend your days trying to cram as much as possible into every hour of every day; getting up early in the morning to make it to the gym before starting your day in the office, before rushing home to spend time with your family and friends. It can be quite draining trying to achieve all of these things and equally worry about disappointing people or ourselves when we can’t meet our own unrealistic expectations.

Similarly, we are so preoccupied with trying to achieve everything we have set for ourselves in the week, we are distracted during the actual experiences we are seeking and constantly looking at what is next on the list. For me, I have been trying to make a conscious effort to slow down and focus and trust me this has not been easy.

Two areas I’ve identified myself to try to counteract this situation are the type of things that a career coach would support you with. The first is the practice of mindfulness, something a friend recently recommended after noticing I was struggling with my own work-life balance.

Mindfulness is a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment and an acceptance of them without judgment of whether they are right or wrong. In both of our contexts it is a sort of psychological “time out” where you can take 10 or 15 minutes for yourself, to sit quietly and pay attention to yourself and settle, rather than focusing on everything else you need to do. It not only helps you to slow down, but also to become more aware of what is important to you and what is not, which is key when balancing areas of your life. At the moment I am using a very popular app called Headspace, which breaks mindfulness techniques into bite-sized chunks.

My next suggestion is to focus your attention on one activity at a time. We are constantly multitasking and psychologists have found that this is neither good for us or for the task we are trying to achieve. Daniel Goleman, the leading author, describes how as professionals we need to focus our attention to different aspects of our lives at different times, moving past distraction and into full concentration.

If you are busy across your life, then it is likely you are frequently distracted. Focus requires compromise and a realistic appreciation of the balance you need to feel content. You need a dose of “healthy selfishness” where you may leave work at a particular time on a particular day a week to attend a gym class or you make sure to spend two hours a night with your family without being distracted by your emails. Remember – it is about quantity not quality and a morning’s quality time with family or friends will benefit both sides more than a full day together where you are constantly engrossed in your iPhone.

Doctor’s prescription:

Many of us believe that being busy is what makes us important. Yet achieving balance requires some trade-offs and we need to focus our attention and avoid distractions. It is certainly achievable to have a busy job, a regular exercise routine and an active family and social life. Yet we must slow down, set realistic expectations and realise that sometimes doing a little less can help us significantly more.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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I have a team member who is very outspoken to the point of being inappropriate at times. He always says exactly what he thinks, even during meetings with the senior leadership team. Some of his comments raise eyebrows. Despite his combative style and controversial thinking, no one reprimands him. How can I ensure he toes the company line and keeps his opinions to himself? DO, Abu Dhabi

Some people were taught, while growing up, to speak their mind no matter the situation. Others were taught to keep their opinions to themselves. As we get older and enter the real world, we often unconsciously carry some of those characteristics with us, which we developed at a very early age. Some of these patterns serve us well, yet some of them should have remained in the playground.

In my youth, I was often reprimanded for being “cheeky” and it sometimes got me in trouble at school. As I grew older I learnt how to manage this trait and use it only when appropriate, with the correct audience in the correct context. Yet it is my awareness of this that helps me with the balancing act of remaining positive and light-hearted without becoming the office clown. It seems like your team has inherited that outspoken classmate who was dreaded by every teacher.

Balance is what it comes down to and as a manager it is your responsibility to raise the awareness of your team member of the need to adjust their natural style. Some of us may enjoy speaking our mind, however there is a time and a place for everything and this clearly needs to be conveyed to your colleague. Having a team member who blurts things out without any regard for the audience can be quite tough. It means you are constantly on edge, wondering what he will say next. However, you need to remember that this person is part of your team and his behaviour reflects on you and on others. Therefore, you have every right to try to manage his outbursts and show him the appropriate way to communicate in a professional setting.

Addressing someone with a combative or confrontational style like this can require you to be assertive in your own approach and clear and concise with your feedback. Set up a feedback session with this disruptive team member. Arrange for the meeting to be in a private room. It’s important that you feel and appear fully in control of the situation and explain the situation in a fair yet firm manner. Don’t give him the audience he desires or you may bring out the challenging schoolchild in him.

I always encourage managers to focus on the facts and not to make it personal. Do not make it about the individual, as their outspoken and imaginative style may have some benefits and is also most probably an ingrained part of their character. No conversation is ever successful once it becomes about the person as, naturally, defences go up. If there are benefits of this style then use these to balance out the more critical feedback. For example, controversial or out-of-the-box thinking often is what sparks new ideas or innovations. Just make it clear that saying exactly what he thinks in meetings is not the right way to go.

For an extroverted individual like this, this behaviour is ­usually due to a lack of ­awareness rather than simply a lack of concern. I have met many outgoing outspoken individuals who are very conscious of how they are viewed by those around them, especially senior leadership. You may make some progress by drawing their attention to the effect that their outspoken behaviour has on their personal credibility in the organisation. If you have examples or comments made by the senior management team, it will help the message land. Remember to handle this conversation sensitively. You do not want to leave him ­thinking that you and the organisation only appreciate those who silently nod and agree.

Doctor’s prescription:

Speaking your mind can be very powerful in organisations as many simply follow like sheep. However, when it becomes inappropriate and confrontational, then someone needs to speak his or her mind to this individual. Otherwise you and the rest of the team will continue to feel the knock-on effect of this individual’s bullish style. Raise his awareness so others can stop raising their eyebrows.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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I love my job and the company I work for, but I often feel undervalued. I’m always coming up with ideas, working above and beyond what is asked for, yet I don’t get the pat on the back I feel I deserve. How can I ask for the feedback I need to help me measure my contribution and assess whether I really am valued or not? LK, Dubai

As well as having a written contract with an organisation, we each have our “psychological contracts”. These are the unwritten and often unspoken needs and wants between an employee and an employer. They relate to how each individual expects to be treated and the type of value they seek from the organisation and importantly what it expects in return.

Some people are happy to sign up to a transactional contracts whereby an employee punches in their agreed 40-hour week (no more, no less) for a set wage. These contracts are very clear-cut and offer few benefits outside the obvious financial ones.

Others have more complex relational contracts where they exchange effort, time and energy for more aspirational reasons – a sense of purpose, a stretching new challenge or for status and power. It is almost like a trade being made between two parties at a souq: “If I give you 40 hours a week full of energy, ideas and motivation, I expect X and Y in return.”

Unfortunately, some organisations tend to take advantage of these types of contracts, making promises without delivering and ultimately exploiting their employees.

Based on what you have told me, your company has clearly done something right; they have placed you in the right role, and you believe in their vision. It seems like they have signed you up to a relational contract, yet you feel a bit let down. You are putting in the hard work and sharing those ideas yet the recognition you are receiving feels slightly out of balance.

This is not unusual. Many organisations fall into their comfort zone with their more committed employees. They assume that because you are putting in time, ideas and effort that you are subsequently engaged. They are not living up to their side of the deal and for this reason you may need some contract renegotiation.

If you feel you are not fully valued, then an honest conversation with your manager is in order. Start on a positive note by explaining your satisfaction with your role and the company itself and then go on to explain what you feel is lacking. Show them that for you to remain an engaged employee you would appreciate more feedback on your effort and performance. Explain that you are not constantly seeking praise or reassurance as such, but instead you want to be able to measure and reflect on your own contribution.

There is no harm putting your psychological contract on the table, explaining what you enjoy doing for your company, the ideas you can share and the energy you are willing to put in. Rather than listing all the things you do – which may come across as cocky – balance it out with the elements your employer have provided in return (even in previous years). This conversation should raise awareness on both sides.

Another area to focus on is instead of looking upwards for this feedback and value, look to yourself and your colleagues. Take the time to recognise the efforts of colleagues and this will not only create a positive workplace culture but will encourage others to have the same attitude. Similarly, there are times when we all need to praise our own performance, because unfortunately even in our personal relationships lots of things go unnoticed.

Finally, although there are times when it is justified to speak up and seek the praise and recognition you may feel you deserve, there are others times when you may have to let things go and be grateful for what you have. You are fortunate to love your job and believe in your company and for that reason you are in a better position than many others.

Doctor’s prescription:

The unwritten rules in organisational life are often more influential than the formal contracts we sign when we join. Even if we work tirelessly, sometimes they simply do not see everything that is happening and do not fulfil their part of the deal, which should be to praise and encourage exceptional performance. Honest conversations with management can help us get some of the recognition we deserve and rebalance our own expectations.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.

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Is it appropriate to blind CC our manager on emails between myself and the rest of the team? IG, Dubai

Professional email etiquette in today’s modern workplace is as important, if not more important than everyday manners. How we conduct ourselves through the medium of email is vital, as without the support of verbal and visual cues to get our message across, we are more vulnerable to being misinterpreted. The language we use, the underlying tone of voice, and who we decide to include in CC and in BCC are all key triggers to whether the information lands positively or negatively.

I find it just as challenging identifying who the most appropriate people are to include in an email, as it is to work out what needs to be said. I have also been on the receiving end of emails from colleagues and clients, with a number of people included for purposes unknown to me.

Sometimes it can be as simple as the sender wanting to keep everybody informed, but it can also be read in a more negative manner and can raise all sorts of questions about the sender’s motives. Is the sender covering his or her own back? Or trying to expose a colleague or put them on the spot? Or do they genuinely just want to keep everybody in the loop. Without the benefit of face-to-face interaction, it can be really difficult to decipher the senders’ true intentions as we find ourselves trying to read between the lines. At the heart of all of this lies the BCC function – the ultimate in undercover surveillance.

BCC stands for “blind carbon copy,” and is a way of copying people privately into an email without the knowledge of the other recipients. Any email addresses in the BCC field will be invisible to everyone else on the email. In other words, it’s like CC, but for covert spies. It gives you the power to put someone else undercover and misuse of this can cause quite serious issues in the corporate environment.

The concept of the BCC originally applied to paper correspondence and has now been translated over to email. I think the challenge now is how to use this function correctly and ethically, and with the appropriate etiquette.

There are a few genuine reasons to blind copy people in an email. For example, when you are sending a mass email to a group of people who do not know each other. They may not want their email addresses shared, or necessarily want people to know they are included in the correspondence. BCC can also help to prevent the spread of computer viruses, spam and malware.

Misuse of the email tool however, can in fact be quite unethical. It can be used as a method of surveillance and micromanagement, and can make personal correspondence less transparent, make meeting invites seem sneaky and turn co-workers into paranoid double agents.

When thinking about whether to include your manager in on emails between yourself and your team, it would be useful to know more about the context of these emails. If it were used as an outlet for updating them on general progress and the objectives you are requesting from your team in their everyday activities, I would definitely say no. This type of behaviour does not only implicitly undermine your team, implying they are not to be trusted to deliver on their objectives, but it also undermines your own competence as a manager.

By needing to keep your manager informed of every single correspondence, you are not taking responsibility for the success or failure of your team. Imagine being back in school and being the child who constantly called the teacher to tell tales on the rest of your classmates – not a popular move.

Building up your credibility as a leader requires you to show you can handle everyday issues yourself. I don’t think you call your manager in for every conversation you have with your team, so why do it when the communication is in the documented form. Equally, one slip and “reply all” from your manager could be exposing for you and completely blow his cover. So I urge you to apply this potentially deadly tactic with caution.

Being included in the BCC field of an email is a sacred trust. If you do include your manager as BCC in an email to the team or team members it should be the exception rather than the rule. It may be that you are making them aware of a project’s positive progress or more likely keeping them informed of the steps you are taking to manage a team member’s underperformance. However, for me before the email is even formulated, I would be hoping you were having conversations with that individual and possibly your own manager. Alternatively if that is not possible, have the courage to put your manager in CC or send them a separate email updating them of the situation.

Doctor’s prescription:

BCC can be a deadly tactic used to damaging effects in the world of corporate espionage. If you are going to hit that button, then do it for the right reasons. There are some serious consequences if it goes wrong. My advice is rather than Blind Copy, have the actual conversations with your manager and with your team and create an overt rather than covert culture in your organisation.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at business@thenational.ae for advice on any work issues.